House passes ₱162-B Bayanihan 2 on final reading, but some lawmakers say it's not enough

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 10) – Fresh stimulus measures meant to boost the economy post-coronavirus lockdowns are closer to becoming law.

The House of Representatives approved its version of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act on final reading on Monday, with 242 yes votes. Six lawmakers voted against the measure.

House Bill 6953 serves as the chamber's version of the stimulus measure, which allots a ₱162-billion standby fund for interventions to address the current health crisis.

The amount includes ₱51 billion set for infusion of capital for government financial institutions, ₱20 billion for low-interest credit for the agriculture sector and implementation of cash-for-work programs, ₱10 billion for the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and ₱10 billion each for the Transportation and Tourism departments.

​The capital infusions are meant to push banks to lend more to companies, especially small firms, so they can rebuild their operations.

The measure also allocated ₱10.5 billion for hiring additional healthcare workers and provision of risk allowance, life insurance and compensation for medical front liners.

The Senate passed its own version of the bill in July. The House earlier passed a version worth ₱140 billion, matching the amount which the Department of Finance said are available.

The House earlier passed a stimulus package worth more than ₱1 trillion, but economic managers said it was not "fundable."

Most lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano saying the bill is the chamber's response to "remaking" the society. Emphasis is placed in balancing lives and livelihoods, with a focus on reviving the agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing sectors.

Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Benny Abante and Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte both said the funds provided by the bill were "not enough." Abante said this would be a problem since the measure, once passed, is seen effective until December 31.

Those who rejected the measure said its provisions were vague and unresponsive.

"Hindi taglay nitong Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (BARO) ang hinihinging tugon sa hamong hinaharap natin ngayon [The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act is not responsive to the challenges we are currently facing]. BARO scrimps on cash aid and is vague on much-needed health interventions," Gabriela Party-List Rep. Arlene Brosas said, pointing out that the measure is also silent on free mass testing and comprehensive contact tracing which are crucial to controlling the spread of the disease.

She added that the poor and employed are in need of paid quarantine leaves and protection measures.

Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Eufemia Cullamat also voted no, saying: "Isang malaking kabiguan ang Bayanihan 1 at isang malaking kamalian ang pagbibigay ng malaking pera at dagdag-kapangyarihan kay Pangulong Duterte doon. Bakit pa ito dadagdagan pa ng part 2 kung malaking sablay naman ang part 1?"

[Translation: Bayanihan 1 was a massive failure and it was a huge mistake to grant a huge sum of money and extraordinary powers to President Duterte then. Why should we pass Bayanihan 2 if part 1 was a letdown?]

RELATED: Duterte asks Congress to pass Bayanihan 2

She is referring to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act which lasted from March to June that granted President Rodrigo Duterte the authority to realign budget allocations under the 2019 and 2020 spending plans for COVID-19 response and fast-tracked procurement processes for medical equipment.

The government spent ₱375 billion on response measures, about ₱200 billion of which went into two-month subsidies to the 18 million poorest Filipino households.

TIMELINE: The COVID-19 response money trail

The chamber also approved other health-related measures on final reading, such as House Bill 6864 or the Better Normal bill which institutionalizes public health standards, and House Bill 6756 which puts up a medical scholarship and return service program in the country.